Vietnam rose, up close

Those of us who (are wont to) take our freedoms for granted, consider the case of the Vietnamese delegates to the Free Expression in Asian Cyberspace conference ongoing in Makati City. Two of the seven delegates were arrested last Tuesday at the Tan Son Nhat airport in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). One was a doctor, Chi Dang told me; the other was a practicing journalist. They have since been released, but there is no doubt that their saga, and that of their colleagues in the Free Journalists Association of Vietnam who actually made it to the conference (organized by the Southeast Asian Press Alliance and co-hosted by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism), continues.

Most of the seven delegates (some are from Hanoi, some from Ho Chi Minh, and one is from central Vietnam) were visited in their homes by the state police some time before leaving for Manila; they were asked questions like: Who is organizing the conference? Do you know what SEAPA does? We have freedom of expression here, why do you have to attend a conference on it? And so on.

They were each told to "report everything" to the authorities after the conference. And then they were advised, as Chi Dang, who presented a rather bleak but ultimately hopeful situationer on Vietnam yesterday, recalled, to watch their back. (Here’s a photo of her, courtesy of Rebecca Mackinnon.) "Our people will be watching," Chi said, in her charmingly lilted, fluent English. Wait, she said, as she looked at what I was writing in my notebook. "This is what they actually said: ‘We’ve got people to watch you in Manila.’"

PS. I also asked Chi, who did not want to name her colleagues who had been arrested: Aren’t you worried about using your real name in the conference? Word will get around, won’t it? She said it didn’t really matter. They "already knew last week."

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